Unencumbered land is available for industry in West Bengal, a state that has made a name for intransigent land laws in the recent past, chief minister Mamata Banerjee assured Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday.
Banerjee is on a five-day trip to Singapore to attract investments to her state. This is the chief minister's first overseas trip in 15 years.
Banerjee was accompanied by finance minister Amit Mitra, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and the Indian high commissioner in Singapore, Vijay Thakur Singh.
"The prime minister asked me if free land was available in Bengal. I assured him that there was thousands of acres of land that was readily available. There is no encroachment on these lands," Mamata told the media after the meeting.
"He wanted to know the land use policy. I appraised him about the land bank that we have in the state," said the Bengal chief minister.
"I told the prime minister that we have about 3,000-4,000 acre of encroachment-free land available in the bank," she said.
"I have pointed out to him that in Goaltore (West Midnapore district) a tract of 1,000 acre is available where a manufacturing centre can easily come up," she added.
The Bengal chief minister also tried to explain to Loong how she improved the work culture in her state. "I told him that the number of mandays lost has come down from 78 lakh to zero," she said.
While the Singapore Prime Minister's query could have triggered by a general impression of the ground realities of Bengal that became the nursery of anti-acquisition movement in the years following 2006, he was also perhaps aware of the nagging land-related problems faced by a Singapore firm that has already in an airport-city at Andal in the district of Burdwan near the industrial city of Durgapur.
"He asked whether work of the runway was progressing," clarified Mamata.
Changi Airports International that is a part of the government-backed Changi Airport group subsidiary has so far invested Rs 1.5 billion in the equity of the Rs 10,000 crore project that is supposed to build an urban complex surrounding the airport on a 2000-acre plot.
Despite the promoters struggling for years to shift 96 power transmission towers that dot the land near the runway on the pathway of the aircraft, the target is yet to be achieved. The obstacle: procuring land to rest the four legs of each pillar was proving to be extremely difficult with interest groups differing between themselves over compensation pattern and a less-than-eager administration trying to solve the problem.
Even now more than a dozen pillars need to be shifted. Though the government recently intervened to sort out the problems created by local interest groups, implementation might still take some time. As long as the transmission lines are not shifted, DGCA won't permit aircraft operations.
Perhaps realising the importance of the project Mamata emphasised that the airport would become operational by November (2014). "I told the prime minister that the airport would be inaugurated by November," the Bengal chief minister said.
Apart from the land assurance Mamata Banerjee proposed to Loong that a chair would be created in Calcutta University in the name of his father, Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the island country for 30 years (June 1959 and November 1990) and often referred to as the architect of Singapore.
She also invited him to Kolkata to inaugurate a Bengal-Singapore business council. Mamata said such a body would be set up in Kolkata to promote business ventures and trade between West Bengal and Singapore.